New Arkansas laws intended to limit driver distractions

| 3/6/2009

Arkansas lawmakers have said “no” to driver distractions this year at the statehouse.

Gov. Mike Beebe signed into law bills that address one of the pet peeves of professional drivers – focusing on anything other than the road – while a related bill is nearing passage.

One new law, previously HB1013, bans text messaging while driving – for all drivers.

Another new law targets cell phone use by the state’s youngest drivers. HB1119 prohibits drivers under 18 from the use of any mobile device while behind the wheel. It allows drivers stopped for another offense who are found to be in violation of the proposed rule to get off with a warning. Repeat offenders would face $50 fines.

Exceptions would be made for emergency calls. Of particular interest to truckers, CB radios also are exempted.

Efforts to curb the practice of using electronic wireless devices, such as a BlackBerry-type device, while driving have picked up steam across the country following the National Safety Council’s call for all states to ban drivers from all cell phone usage.

Currently, more than a dozen states forbid young drivers to use phones while behind the wheel. California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Washington are the only states that have bans on all drivers using hand-held phones. With the exception of New York, each of these states also prohibits text messaging. Alaska, Louisiana and Minnesota have their own text-messaging bans.

A recent poll on the Land Line site shows how truckers view the issue of driver distractions. Almost half, or 45 percent, of the respondents said that states should focus their efforts on banning hand-held phones while allowing drivers to continue to use hands-free devices. Following closely behind, 41 percent of voters said lawmakers should quit trying to legislate everything people do. A far smaller number of respondents – 11 percent – said no one should use their cell phones or send text messages while driving. Only about 2 percent said restrictions should be focused on the youngest drivers.

The Arkansas House approved another bill that would put in place further restriction on teen drivers. By a vote of 58-35, lawmakers voted to send a bill back to the Senate for approval of changes that would strengthen the state’s graduated driver’s license system.

SB309 would prohibit drivers under 18 from carrying more than one minor passenger. Exceptions would be made for relatives or if there are is a licensed adult in the front passenger seat.

The bill also would prohibit young drivers from driving between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., except when driving to and from work, for school functions or for emergencies.

Supporters say the changes are needed because the state ranks sixth in fatal wrecks involving teens, the Arkansas News Bureau reported. Opponents say the matter should be left up to parents.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Arkansas in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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